Crop harvesting a delicate process, give it full commitment

Obert Chifamba
IT is that time of the year again when every farmer has to make peace with the literal interpretation of the adage ‘you reap what you sow’.

Indeed, farmers are reaping what they sow at the start of the 2020/21 cropping season.

In essence, harvesting of the early planted crops is already underway.

Of course, this year will be slightly different from others in the sense that the season set in a bit late, which explains why farmers across the country have crops at various stages of maturity, but those whose early planted crops were lucky to escape the blistering sun of the first half of the season are definitely harvesting.

Some of these farmers have to make sure the crop is removed from the field without delay, as they intend to use the same land for their winter cropping programmes, while some are doing it because the crops have matured and must be removed either for storage or sale.

There are, however, a few important things that farmers harvesting their crops should observe to make sure they do not spoil their good yields, thanks to the lavish rains that fell in the second and final half of the 2020/21 season.

Large-scale commercial farmers who need combine harvesters should have already booked the machines with those that own them if they do not have their own, so that they do not wait for the last minute to starting looking for one.

Those who have their own combine harvesters need to be making sure they are properly maintained and just waiting for that day when harvesting will begin.

This is also the time for such farmers to be securing fuel for the combines.

Besides readying their combines, they should also be working closely with their potential markets, which in most cases are the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), millers like National Foods and the occasional private buyers making arrangements on how they will deliver their grain.

It only makes sense for farmers making bulky grain deliveries to avoid the costs of buying bags and deliver it as unpacked grain in trailers of trucks.

Those farmers that do not have bank accounts should also make sure they open one now so that their earnings are deposited straight into their accounts.

GMB will be paying within 72 hours or a week, at the latest.

Smallholder farmers without adequate manpower from their families may also need to be recruiting the extra hands that they may need and agree on a fee for their services so that grain does not stay for long periods in the fields where it will be exposed to many dangers.

Grain that stays for too long in the field ends up losing valuable weight through over drying, while chances of thieves preying on it are high and so will be risks of veld fires that have become synonymous with the time we are approaching in recent years.

Grain that is not completely dry to required moisture levels can still be harvested and dried in dryers.

The GMB has since set up seven dryers in different depots across the country, while a further 13 are reportedly on their way from Italy where they were purchased so farmers should see how they can access them and dry their grain.

It is also advisable for farmers to do random extraction of grain from their fields and take samples for moisture testing at the GMB so that they know when to start harvesting or when to deliver.

The need for good storage facilities needs not be overemphasised since it is every farmer’s obligation to ensure that harvested grain is stored properly even if it is in temporary storage structures like the traditional crib in most communal areas.

The structure has to be constructed in a way that allows free movement of air inside while shutting out any forms of precipitation so that grain does not pick moisture and end up rotting.

Grain must not be stored resting on concrete floors or where it will be in contact with walls from which it can pick moisture that later soils its quality.

After being shelled, the grain must be fumigated against insects that can make it their hunting ground.

The final storage facility should always be situated close to houses where people sleep for security reasons in the face of growing cases of vandalism and theft perpetrated by daring thieves that always pounce on the slightest opportunity to reap where they did not sow if security is lax.

The farmer should also make sure that storage facilities, whether permanent or temporary do not have openings that allow vermin like rats and mice to enter, as they have the capacity to effect a lot of damage that ends up depriving them (farmers) of value for their produce.

As a rule of thumb, farmers should never mix grain from the previous season with freshly harvested stock, as chances of the old grain passing pests on to the new grain are very high, which compromises quality greatly.

This simply means that the farmer has to find alternative storage space for both batches of grain to preserve quality. Such a decision also enables the farmer to control pests that could have infested either set of the grain.

It is also prudent that as farmers harvest and market their crops, they should remember to put aside enough for their domestic needs and not sell everything just for the love of the dollar.

This season is expected to be the turning point for many things — household food security included as many people managed to plant crops taking advantage of the many Government programmes that were unveiled to support agriculture.

Those that produced crops under contract arrangements should also not get carried away by the excitement of having performed well this season and sell produce to buyers who were not part of the contract arrangement lest they face legal battles.

Farmers who produced crops under Command Agriculture, Pfumvudza/Intwasa or any other contract arrangement should honour their end of the deal and give the contractors their dues before making the decision either to keep all or sell some of the produce, depending on the quantities.

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